/ 14 October 2009

MSF: Thousands of Congolese refugees need aid

Violence is spreading in northern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where hundreds of thousands of people have fled clashes between government forces and rebels from neighbouring Uganda over the past year, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) said on Wednesday.

Civilians in the remote northern Haut-Uele area of the vast central African country have suffered a string of attacks by the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group since late last year and are also being caught up in an anti-LRA offensive by the Congolese and Ugandan armies.

”The local population is the target of violence: murder, kidnapping and sexual abuse,” Luis Encinas, coordinator of MSF operations in Central Africa, said in a press statement issued in Johannesburg.

MSF patients had related ”the most brutal stories”, he said, including ”about children who are forced to kill their parents and people burnt alive inside their homes”.

The LRA, which has been fighting a rebellion in Uganda for more than 20 years, moved its bases into DRC in 2005. Last autumn the rebels attacked several villages, killing scores of people and abducting scores of children. A UN-backed joint offensive by the Ugandan, South Sudanese and Congolese armies has killed hundreds of rebels.

MSF said the violence against civilians was spreading from Haut-Uele into Bas-Uele in the north-east, as well as into the neighbouring regions of southern Sudan and eastern Central African Republic.

Thousands of people had been forced to flee their villages and cram into towns for shelter — some for the second or third time in a year, the organisation said.

The refugees urgently needed food, clean water, shelter and proper living conditions, MSF said, calling for a greater humanitarian presence in the area, where it is often the only non-governmental organisation providing aid.

MSF has more than 150 people working in the Haut-Uele and Bas-Uele districts, where it has provided relief aid to about 16 000 people displaced by the violence and treated thousands of patients in clinics and hospitals. — Sapa-dpa